TV picks of the week: All is not well in Paradise

Queenstown is the setting for Jane Campion's crime series Top of the Lake. Photo / Supplied
Queenstown is the setting for Jane Campion's crime series Top of the Lake. Photo / Supplied

Pick of the Week: Top of the Lake

The, ah, remarkable scenery around Queenstown has provided plenty of backdrops for plenty of productions over the years - from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films, to Wolverine and Bollywood musicals. But now the area is ready for its very own close-up.

Jane Campion's BBC-backed crime miniseries actually goes into, and uses, the name of the tourist-trap town. Though it also uses some poetic licence with the local geography - the settlement at "Paradise" is shot at Moke Lake over the hill from Queenstown, not the Paradise near where Campion has a cottage on the northern reaches of Lake Wakatipu. And Glenorchy is renamed "Laketop" and is a far edgier place with far edgier residents than the actual quiet hamlet where some of the series was shot. As Campion told canvas magazine: "It's not located geographically realistically. It's more about community at the end of the line. At the edge of things."

But Campion and co-director Garth Davis' use of the the landscape suggests the series may do for the area what her The Piano did for Karekare, even if it's a setting for an unsettling story about a missing girl and warring local factions.

"It's another character," says series lead Elisabeth Moss of the setting, "and possibly the most important character in the project. Not to mention the fact that you put the camera anywhere in this place and it's stunning.

"Jane obviously has a passion for her country and she brings that into the project so much. She's got a love for this environment which is just so palpable and you can see it in the story. Even in the uglier bits of this story ..."

As it hits screens in the US, Australia and New Zealand, the series has been compared to David Lynch's television saga Twin Peaks for its setting and off-kilter approach to genre. "I thought of Twin Peaks at first but real- not surreal, but real," says Australian actor David Wenham, who plays the local top cop in the show. Though as the series progresses, it gets even more Peaks-esque, says Peter Mullan, who plays Matt Mitcham, the father of the missing girl.

"We're plenty close to dancing midgets. There's dream sequences towards the end and stuff."

For Campion, though, who co-wrote the series with Gerard Lee, she had something in mind that might intrigue fans of the Scandinavian crime wave of recent times, only strained through her own idiosyncrasies. "I think Scandinavian crime fiction is exciting for people because it's a really interesting and particular environment and I think New Zealanders are also interested in that."

And so far as Queenstown goes, the local coroner in the show grumbles, "Queenstown is a millionaires' playground. What they want they get."

Campion wrote the line. Does she agree? "I think you could say that. I think he's got a slightly sour view But, yes, beautiful places attract money and people who want to buy a bit of it ... it attracted me."

When: 8.30pm, Monday
Where: UKTV
What: Campion's Southern saga

Lifestyle pick: Country Calendar

In its 47th year on screens, Country Calendar returns with more insights into the lives of our nation's farmers, producers and rural innovators against a backdrop of heartland scenery. In the first episode, the crew visits John and Pauline Blaikie on their northern Manawatu farm. When John was young, his father made him work on the family poultry farm in his spare time, and he ended up hating chooks. But decades on, things have come full circle, as the couple now produce 4000 eggs a day from their free-range and organic operation on 150ha in Rewa, north of Feilding. When they bought the property 20 years ago, they made most of their income through sheep, bulls and growing crops, and although they still have livestock (also organically farmed), their primary source is now the chickens that roam free during the day and roost in purpose-built houses.

When: Saturday, 7pm
Where: TV One
What: Still a Kiwi classic

Current affairs pick: The Vote

There will be teams of three, team leaders and a referee, but TV3's new current affairs show will be quite different to 7 Days. In the style of a debate, the show will address one issue each episode, and the debate will be held in front of live audiences.

Taking over the 3rd Degree timeslot once every four weeks, hosts Duncan Garner and Guyon Espiner will lead each team, while broadcaster and lawyer Linda Clark will referee.

They aim to present lively and informed arguments around some of New Zealand's more crunchy topics, and at the end of each show the audience will vote on the issue, and viewers can have their say via text, Facebook, Twitter and online, giving a snapshot of the nation's opinion. TV3's director of news and current affairs Mark Jennings says The Vote "has the potential to deliver an instant message to politicians and decision-makers".

When: Wednesday, 8.30pm
Where: TV3
What: Debating the issues

Kids' pick: Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards 2013

If you want to be down with the kids then check out these awards. It's like a survey of where kids - okay, so mainly American kids - are at in 2013.

Although it hands out gongs for favourite movie and favourite actress (expect Jennifer Lawrence to feature prominently), the kids also vote for everything from their favourite book and video game to favourite cartoon and app (the possible winner of the latter is likely to be Minecraft, one imagines).

And there certainly isn't any sliming of celebrities at the Oscars like they dish up here, with some of Hollywood's biggest stars the victims.

Hosted this year by Transformers' star Josh Duhamel, the ceremony screens in New Zealand just a day after it is held in the US, and will feature performances by Pitbull, Christina Aguilera and Ke$ha.

When: Sunday 6:30pm
Where: Nickelodeon
What: Slime time

Comedy pick: The New Normal

Unsurprisingly, the new sitcom from Nip/Tuck and Glee's Ryan Murphy involves a non-traditional family set-up. Gay couple David (Justin Bartha) and Bryan (Andrew Rannells) want to adopt a baby. Goldie (Georgia King), the single mother of 8-year-old Shania (Bebe Wood), is looking to start a new life away from her cheating boyfriend and her controlling mum, Nana Jane (Ellen Barkin), a likeable bigot with her racial slurs and homophobic insults. Murphy hopes the show will resonate with viewers.

"I think everybody has people in their family who are hopefully representative in all of these characters. The most controversial will probably be Ellen Barkin's character.

"But when I was growing up my grandmother would actually say these jaw-dropping things ... So it felt very familiar to me and I think it will feel familiar to other people."

When: Friday, 8pm
Where: TV3
What: Another modern family?

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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